It’s almost time to go for your daily jog. It’s January 4th and you committed to building a habit that you’ve always wanted: jogging.
But here’s the thing; jogging is really difficult. There are a million other things that you could do that are easier and more enjoyable. But you made a commitment and you want to stick to it.
So, how can you do it?
I’ve formed many useful habits over the past few years. One thing that I’ve learned is that if you want to build a long-lasting habit, consistency is key.
There’s a trick that I learned from Scott Adams that helps a lot with this.
The trick is simple: commit to the minimum.
Commit to the minimum
So what does that really mean? I mean commit to the minimum amount of whatever habit you’re trying build.
Let’s use jogging as an example. So if the goal is to jog every day, what are the steps? I can think of four main ones:
- Get dressed
- Put on running shoes
- Go outside
- Start jogging
Maybe you have some other steps, ie. going to a gym, driving to a park, etc. But this idea still ideas.
So, we know how to build the habit and we’ve broken it down into steps (getting ready and then jogging). Now what?
Well, now you have to commit to doing the minimum and then do it! For jogging, commit to going on a 1-minute jog every single day. That will take 5 minutes. Everyone has 5 minutes. 3 minutes to get ready, 1 minute to jog. 1 to cool down.
You can always find 5 minutes. If you can’t, then it’s not a priority.
“I don’t have time is just saying it’s not a priority.”
Because this is where the magic happens. Once you’ve permitted yourself to quit as soon as you’d like, the pressure is off. One minute is cake. You can do that. Anyone can do that. But what you’ll find is that by going through the motions of getting ready, you are priming your mind for action. It’s transitioning into ‘work mode’ and preparing for the impending stress. But then, when you do start, everything seems so much easier than it was ten minutes ago. Getting started is the true barrier. Once you’re past that, it’s smooth sailing.
And sure, every once in a while you’ll jog for a minute and decide you’re just not feeling it. That’s okay. One of the most important parts of building a habit is consistency. This little trick helps with that.
Going from 0 to 1
The true barrier to habit formation is discomfort. You’re used to doing things that are comfortable or easy. Often you’ll have a choice between sitting on your couch and watching TV or doing something difficult. Now, I’m sure every single person reading this article can think of a dozen excuses to opt for TV time instead. Pay attention to what you tell yourself.
Watching TV is easy-mode. Anyone could do that.
Doing something difficult, like going on a jog, is hard-mode. Choosing to embrace discomfort and push your limits is hard; especially when you have the option not to.
But that’s the thing – we almost always have a choice. Life is the year 2020 is easier to survive than ever before. Technology, innovation, and science are improving the quality of life for people around the world and it’s only speeding up. So as things become easier, we will become even more accustomed to not having to do hard things. That’s why we must choose to.
Starting is difficult. But when it comes to habit building, consistency is king. It’s important to remember that if you skip a day, progress is not lost. Don’t let it discourage you because it’s not that big of a deal!
In the words of the habit king himself, James Clear,
“ “…missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.”
–James Clear, author of Atomic Habits
Why do hard things?
That’s a fair question. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you my reasons. I do them because it’s a challenge. I do it because I’m trying to become the best version of myself that I can be. I train my mind and body to be able to handle progressively more difficult situations because I want to see what I’m capable of.
The idea of potential doesn’t mean anything. Unfulfilled potential is meaningless. While potential acted on can be greatness. Which begs the question: can someone without potential ever become great? In other words, Not all potential leads to greatness, but does all greatness stem from potential?
To me, potential and action are almost interchangeable. Potential traditionally means capability. Under this definition, I would say that most people have potential. Most people are capable and the differentiating factor is action. Potential means nothing if not for action.
I do hard things to realize my potential. I want to see what I’m truly capable of. The only way to do that by doing difficult things. I challenge myself because that’s how I grow. I wrote a piece called How You Grow: The Goldilocks zone, describing that sweet-spot for growth. You’re looking for something difficult enough to challenge you, but not so difficult that you can’t do it.
It should be a struggle, but achievable.
I do hard things to manifest that ‘potential’ into reality.
This is the path to greatness. This is how you achieve impressive feats. This is how you become better.
That’s it for this one! I hope enjoyed it.
Are you thinking about building any habits? Or are you in the process of building one already? Let me know in the comments! If you’re interested in reading another short piece about building habits, my second ever blog post (so go easy!) was called ‘Habit Formation For Beginners‘ It’s a short article outlining my 4-step process on building habits.
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Thanks for reading!